Freedom. What an interesting term. It can be defined in many ways.
In the United States of America we pride ourselves in having freedom to say what we want, go where we desire, and do whatever pleases us. When we look at countries like Cuba, we think of anything but freedom. Since 1959, when Cuba officially became a communist country, the people have experienced the loss of many freedoms we hold dear. The trade embargo instituted by the U.S. made life even more difficult.
Upon a recent visit to Cuba I witnessed first-hand restrictions placed upon Cuban nationals. There are few stores. They receive all of their food and health care from the government.
One of my favorite stories was of a Cuban pastor who visited the U.S. He called his wife to report, “I went to this place called a Winn Dixie and there were fruits and vegetables as far as the eye could see.” He was overwhelmed with the choices of so many different food items. Cubans have very few restaurants and until a few years ago, nationals were not allowed into hotels unless they were accompanied by a guest of the hotel. Government leaders did not want to feed discontentment in their people.
On my trip we were warned not to say anything negative about the government or political leaderships. Most taxies, hotel rooms, and phones are tapped and careless words may result in a visit from governing authorities.
Despite their limitations, I have never been in a place where there was more freedom in the hearts and souls of believers.
From 1959 until 1992 atheism was proclaimed by the government to be the religious stance of Cuba. In 1992 the government changed this label to secularist.
In 1998 Pope John Paul II visited Cuba raising the hopes of many that more freedom would be given to those who desired to worship. Since that time a revival has begun and churches have sprung up in homes, under trees, and in buildings across the island nation. There are still regulations in place prohibiting large public gatherings, but the church is alive and spreading the good news of Jesus!
During my visit I worshipped with four different congregations and witnessed over 50 baptisms in lakes, rivers, and baptistries. My heart thrilled to see hungry souls crowd into limited spaces to sing praises and hear the gospel preached. When there was no more room in a building, they would peer into windows and stand three and four deep in doorways to be a part. Worship services lasted hours as hungry souls praised the One who gives freedom, promises hope, and eternity. Crowds gathered and would wait an hour or more for a pastor to arrive to bring teaching from God’s word. The nationals not only listened, they took the message home to share with friends and family. The kingdom continues to grow in Cuba.
As I witnessed the freedom of Spirit the church in Cuba has found, my heart hurt for the spiritual bondage many in my home country experience.
We have churches where pews are rarely filled though we have air-conditioned buildings and padded pews. There are churches where people are present, but they do not experience joy in Spirit. They do church because their attendance is expected. Oh, how I wish they could know true freedom.
In the July issue of Christianity Today a Christian leader in Cuba said, “Of course I want more freedom, but I wouldn’t want it to come at the expense of our current passion for the gospel. Perhaps God is limiting our freedom to teach us to strengthen the church so that when more freedoms are granted us, we will be better prepared to serve.”
Please join me as we pray for passion and spiritual freedom in our churches in America and around the world.
Pray for the churches in Cuba that they will continue to see revival and that it would spread abroad. Pray their Christian leaders will continue to have the freedom to preach the gospel and be safe.